Letter from the Editor

mb53-LetterFromEditorDear Thay, dear Sangha,

It is with deep gratitude that I write this letter to you. Gratitude for the honor of editing this much-loved magazine; gratitude for every writer, artist, volunteer, and supporter who brought this issue to life; gratitude for your hands holding these pages. I’m indebted to Sister Annabel, the senior editor, for her discerning wisdom; to each prior editor whose mindful steps created a path to follow; and to Janelle Combelic, whose patient assistance was a clear and guiding light.

Our local Sangha, the Heart Sangha in Santa Cruz, California, recently hosted a weekend retreat, led by Dharma Teacher Wendy Johnson and writer Maxine Hong Kingston. One of the themes was “moving from war to gratitude.” Maxine told us about a group of young soldiers who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and formed a writers’ group. “They had faith that writing would bring them home,” she explained. She showed us a small book of poetry with a rough, scratchy cover, which the veterans had created. They’d cut up and boiled their uniforms and used the remains to make book covers. As a Sangha, they transformed their suffering: their war clothes became book jackets; their pain became poems.

This issue offers powerful stories about the transformation of suffering into love. Heartfelt stories in “Death and Dying” show us how mindfulness, kindness, and Sangha building can nourish us through the uncertain terrain of loss. “Mindful Living” includes stories about transforming busyness and distraction into mindfulness at home and at work.

“Miracle of Sangha” offers stories from the Estes Park, Colorado retreat. This retreat was just one of several in the 2009 U.S. Tour. From Massachusetts to Colorado, and California to New York, practitioners gathered by the thousands, strengthening the collective energy of mindfulness. The Estes Park retreat was unique—the largest retreat ever conducted by monastics without Thay’s physical presence, it demonstrated that each of us is a continuation of our teacher, and that many beautiful flowers can blossom when “over one thousand Thays” practice joyfully together.

“Embracing Vietnam” calls our attention to the young monastics who were forcibly removed from Bat Nha Monastery in September 2009. Dear friends, please do everything you can to support our Vietnamese sisters and brothers. Look at page 18 to find out how to help. And enjoy the essay about Maitreya Fonds, a German organization enriching children’s education in Vietnam.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us he wouldn’t want to live in a place where there is no suffering, because there would be no compassion. The Mindfulness Trainings encourage us to spend time with beings who are suffering, “so we can understand their situation deeply and help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy.” May the stories in this issue show us ways to transform war into gratitude, suffering into peace. May they help our hearts to open and to love.

Editor-NBsig

Benevolent Respect of the Heart

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Support Monastics in Vietnam

By Susan O’Leary, Mitchell Ratner, and Members of the Monastic Community

mb53-Support1On September 27, 2009, 379 monastics practicing in the Plum Village tradition were violently evicted from their monastery, Bat Nha, in the central highlands of Vietnam, by a government-organized mob. Emergency calls made to the police were ignored. The monks were forced from their buildings, and made to stand for hours in monsoon rain while the monastery buildings were ransacked. Several dozen were pushed into cars and driven away; the rest were made to march in the rain over fifteen kilometers to Bao Loc, the nearest town. Some nuns were also forced to march in the rain. The remaining nuns took refuge in their dormitories and fled the next morning.

That day, the Venerable Thai Thuan, abbot of the small Phuoc Hue Temple in Bao Loc, courageously offered protective sanctuary. There were no arrests for the beatings or property destruction. Two of the senior monks, Phap Sy and Phap Hoi, were held under house arrest. Police and local authorities in Bao Loc continued to harass the Bat Nha monastics, broadcasting threatening announcements over city loudspeakers, restricting access to the temple, and searching the temple several times a day. Police from the monastics’ home provinces came to talk with the monks’ and nuns’ parents, and threatened that their families would suffer consequences if the young monks and nuns did not leave Phuoc Hue.

Within Vietnam, there has been an unusually strong response to this assault on the monastics. Hundreds of writers, academics, scientists, and Communist Party members have signed an open letter to the government decrying the attack and calling for an immediate investigation. Nguyen Dac Xuan, a journalist and Communist party member for thirty-six years who witnessed the eviction from Bat Nha, has courageously written a public letter condemning what he saw. Thich Nhat Hanh has been writing to the monastics as a loving parent, encouraging them to continue their deep practice of mindfulness and compassion.

The Bat Nha monastics are requesting the government of Vietnam and authorities in Lam Dong Province to:

  • Immediately stop the current campaign of persecution against the community and its supporters in Vietnam, including all attempts to intimidate, harass, defame, disrupt, and forcefully disperse the community and its individual members.
  • Officially confirm the Bat Nha monks’ and nuns’ full legal status (guaranteed by the law of Vietnam and international treaties to which Vietnam is party, and already stated in government documents 212/CV/HDTS and 525/TGCPPG issued in 2006) to practice Buddhism according to the
  • Vietnamese Plum Village tradition, together as a community, in an established location of their own.
  • Allow the monks and nuns to live and practice peacefully all together at their temporary location, Phuoc Hue Temple (or another appropriate location the Sangha agrees to), until the current situation is resolved. The two brothers currently under house arrest, Phap Hoi and Phap Sy, should be immediately released; threats to arrest other community members should be withdrawn. As we go to press, the situation appears to again be worsening. Signs indicate that the Vietnamese government’s intention is to break up the Bat Nha community, and to force the monks and nuns practicing in the tradition of Plum Village to renounce their vows and leave the monastic life.

How you can help:

World governments have been responding to the situation. In October the U.S. Embassy made an official visit to Phuoc Hue Temple to express concern. On November 26, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the expulsion of the monastics from Bat Nha and urging the Vietnamese government to curb its violations of freedom of expression, religion, and assembly. The United Nations Human Rights Council has recommended sending a United Nations Special Rapporteur to Vietnam to examine the situation.

  1. Practice diligently so as to nourish the energies of equanimity, compassion, and non-duality.
  2. Deepen your understanding of the situation of the Bat Nha monastics through following the HelpBatNha website (www.HelpBatNha.org) and through studying other sources. A useful source is the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Annual Report, http://www.uscirf.gov/images/AR2009/final%20ar2009%20with%20cover.pdf.
  3. Develop and maintain relations with your national government and national representatives, keeping them informed of new developments and suggesting concrete actions they could take. The governments who have expressed concern have done so after being contacted by Sangha members.
  4. Contribute to the Help Bat Nha fund, which will be used to support the monastics in Vietnam as well as pay for the operational costs of international support efforts. (Contribute at www.HelpBatNha.org.)
  5. Send a message of support to the Bat Nha monks and nuns at: we.are.all.here.for.you@gmail.com.

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The Last Walking Meditation

By a Young Monastic Sister from Bat Nha Monastery

In September 2009, over 350 monastic disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh were violently expelled from Bat Nha (Prajna) Monastery in Vietnam’s central highlands. They took emergency refuge at Phuoc Hue temple in the nearby town of Bao Loc. Following is an eyewitness account from a young monastic sister from Bat Nha. Further stories, photos, press coverage, petitions, and opportunities to help can be found at www.helpbatnha.org.

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On Sunday, September 27, we had the opportunity to do sitting meditation together, and then to do walking meditation around the Garuda Wing Meditation Hall. It was raining heavily that day. My brothers’ and sisters’ robes were soaking wet, but we continued to walk next to each other in peace, love, and understanding. In me, the mind of love and faith reignited brightly.

We never thought that this would be our last walking meditation on this lovely piece of land that was full of life. The atmosphere was still peaceful, and everyone was ready for the next activity, a Day of Mindfulness. For our class, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings,” the topic of the four nutriments was going to be presented, but it had to be cancelled. Perhaps that presentation became the non-verbal Dharma talk, manifesting its insights through our love and profound brotherhood and sisterhood.

At 8:00 a.m., all of us returned to our rooms and sat on our own beds, waiting. I did not know what I was waiting for; I only thought of it as a routine Sunday schedule. Over the last few months, there had been no Sunday when we were not shouted and cursed at. We only knew to sit still and keep our minds calm and receptive.

At 9:00 a.m., we—the sisters in the Mountain Cloud Hamlet— received the news that the brothers’ hamlet, Fragrant Palm Leaf Hamlet, was being attacked. Everything was being destroyed and thrown into the rain. A number of elder and younger brothers were dragged outside and driven away. We were shocked by the news, and we did not believe that it could be true. Soon after that, I saw one elder brother and one young novice running toward Mountain Cloud Hamlet in soaking wet robes. They only had enough time to bring their Sanghatis [monastic ceremonial robes] wrapped on their shoulders.

Victims of Ignorance

At 10:30 a.m., we were allowed to take our food. I was on the cleaning team, so I stayed back to clean up and put things away before I went to eat. As soon as I sat down on the straw mat and picked up my alms bowl, I was told to get my things immediately. All of us put down our alms bowls and went to pack our belongings. We only thought about bringing our Sanghatis, alms bowls, monastic certificates, and identification cards. It would be all right if people came and took the rest of our belongings for their own use. We understood that they were only victims of poverty and constant struggle. They were unfortunate to grow up and live in negative environments, so they were easily “brainwashed” and incited by distorted information.

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In fact, these people deserve love as much as we do. We are victims of violence. But they are victims of ignorance and lack of reflection. Only 70,000 to 100,000 dong [Vietnamese currency] was enough to hire them to do something unwholesome. How pitiful that is! Is that the value of a human being? What about the days and months to follow, when they would suffer from the gnawing of their own conscience? Who would pay them a salary?

At 11:30 a.m., six men walked around our hamlet and knocked on the sisters’ doors, shouting, “The nuns have to leave this place. Do not make us get angry and hurt you. If you don’t leave this place, you will have to suffer the consequences.” All of us sat next to each other quietly. We listened to the sounds of glass windows being broken. People came into every room and herded us outside. They held long iron bars, which were used to hit us if we resisted. One by one, we walked out of our rooms and went out in the front yard. It was raining heavily. Perhaps the sky gods also cried for us.

Not Someone to Love or Hate

When everyone was down in the front yard, we discovered that young sister Cong Nghiem was not with us. She had recently had an accident, so she could not move. We begged the uncles [the attacking men] to allow us to go back and carry her down. All of us were so moved looking at our elder sister carrying our young sister on her back.

The more we looked, the more we also felt sorry for the uncles. There was one uncle about fifty years old, who wore a helmet and walked with a limp. While he was smashing the windows his hand got cut, and it was bleeding severely. We ran to the first aid cabinet, which was completely destroyed. We were lucky to find some cotton balls, gauze, and alcohol to clean and dress his wound. Looking into his eyes, I saw that he was deeply moved; he realized we did not hate him, but instead we took care of him wholeheartedly. During that time, for me, there was not someone to love or someone to hate. I did not think about what they had done to us. There was only this person who needed our help.

After we dressed his wound, he lowered his head to thank us and situated himself quietly in the corner, watching us standing next to each other in the rainstorm. He was not violent anymore. Then I saw him leaving quietly. At that point, all of us were together and safe. No one was stuck inside. We felt so happy to realize that we loved each other, and that we could sacrifice our lives for each other, for our ideals, and for this path of understanding and love.

We Love Vietnam

That morning, about 100 women and men came down to the sisters’ hamlet. Whenever they saw a monk, they would jump in to tear at his clothes and beat him. When we tried to protect our brothers and sisters, we suffered the same fate—they pushed us down; the women used umbrellas and rocks to hit and kick us on our hands and backs. Some of them even slapped our faces. We only knew to endure it or duck. We did not do anything else.

When all of that happened to us, we did not shed one tear or complain. We only felt that our society was full of violence, hatred, and fear. We felt that we needed to protect and guard our ideals, bringing understanding and love to humankind. It pains me to see that the Vietnamese nation was loving, gentle, and ethical, and that the four thousand years of history for which Vietnam has been praised is now lost at the hands of Vietnamese people. We love Vietnam. We love the gentle and kind people. We love the humanist culture that our ancestors cultivated. That is why we have chosen this path, to protect and guard the beauty in the Vietnamese people.

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The pain, the shame, is too great. The beating and eviction are all right, because as monks and nuns, we have no property to be attached to. It only pains us that the dignity and humanity of our society have been brought to such a low level. I thought to myself: How happy I had felt, reading the history of those before me in the Ly and Tran dynasties! We have the right to raise our heads and feel our national pride. However, our children and future generations, when they recall the events at Bat Nha, will have to lower their heads in shame. Time will erase all the physical traces, but the wounds in the heart, the shame, the hatred, the fear, and the violence will be transmitted. With such a transmission, the ethics of our society cannot help but seriously decline. How sad that would be!

We brothers and sisters speak our own hearts; we cannot plant and spread more of those negative seeds. We have to water this arid, thorny land of the human mind with drops of wholesome nectar, so that we can revive the flowers of understanding, love, inclusiveness, and non-harming. Only because of that, we—who are carrying in our hearts the great love, the great vow—are determined not to allow those unwholesome seeds to develop further in the hearts of our people.

We love the sound of the phrase “my motherland.” We love the Vietnamese people. Even if they accuse us of being traitors, even if they beat us down, we never want “chicks of the same hen” to attack or hurt one another. So, from the moment when we were forced out on the street to stand in the rain, accepting the heckling and the beatings, enduring the dirty water tossed into our faces, we continued to stand next to each other and protect each other. Even though we were cornered, beaten, pushed and pulled, we would not leave each other.

“We Will Never Lose You”

At 5:00 p.m. that day, we were forced outside the gate of Mountain Cloud Hamlet. It was painful for us to see that we could not protect our elder Brothers Phap Hoi and Phap Sy from the violence of the uncles. We watched with deep pain as they were taken away. They tried to shoo us, but we all stood silently in the rain. We were cold and hungry.

Only when it was dark outside did we quietly walk to our sisters’ Warm Hearth Hamlet. We were moved by the way our sisters greeted us and received us. They were able to start two fires so that we could warm ourselves. Then they cooked ramen noodles for us to eat. We all felt a burning in our eyes. Was it from the smoke or from the love for each other?

That night, the Warm Hearth Hamlet was left temporarily in peace. We sat next to each other and looked at each other carefully for a long time. We knew that it would be difficult for us to be united like this again. Even though I was tired, I could not sleep. As soon as I lay down, the image of Thay Phap Hoi and the other brothers being taken away arose in my mind. I was afraid that it would be the last image, and the last time that I was able to see him. If this were true, then we would cherish even more deeply his silent sacrifice. It would further affirm our confidence in our path of practice. “Rest assured, dear elder brother. You are present in us. You have transmitted to us your quietness, your calm, and your solidity in those moments. We will never lose you.”

That night, the rainstorm continued strong. I sat up to look around our room in the “Phuong Vy 2” dormitory. Seeing my sisters sleeping, my heart surged with love. If my sacrifice would bring them peace so that they could live and practice, I would do it. Fear in my heart yielded to a powerful love. Two streams of tears ran down, and down. These were the first tears shed since what happened in Bat Nha. The teardrops came from an unlimited source of love.

At five o’clock the next morning, one by one, we got on the bus to Phuoc Hue temple. I was on the second trip. Looking at my sisters’ faces—so young, innocent, and pure—my heart jolted with a sharp pain. We began to sing Here is Our Beloved Bat Nha. Everyone’s eyes became red and teary. When we got to “Here is our beloved Bat Nha, with those who carry in our hearts the Great Vow, to live together and to build the Pure Land right here…,” we could not sing anymore. We just cried. The driver saw us, and he was also moved to tears.

Never before had we cherished so much every moment we were together. To be able to stay together, we were willing to endure any amount of poverty, pain, and suffering. Only five minutes were spent in deep sadness; then we continued to sing our practice songs. We sang and sang until the bus stopped in front of Phuoc Hue temple. From that moment on, our life has moved on to a new page, not any less beautiful or majestic.

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Sangha News

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mb55-SanghaNews2No Worries
Report from the European Institute of Applied Buddhism

By Sister Annabel

The European Institute of Applied Buddhism, also known as the Ashoka Institute, will celebrate its second anniversary on September 10, 2010. We are enjoying ourselves very much in Germany, where we have favorable conditions for the practice: the support of the local people, the teachings of Thay, fresh air, and a daily practice timetable.

mb55-SanghaNews3The Ashoka Institute and neighboring Great Compassion Monastery have the taste and fragrance of the practice since monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen have been practicing there for at least eighteen months. When guests arrive, they are welcomed into the ambience of mindfulness practice. There is a feeling of being at home when we help with cutting vegetables or cleaning toilets during a retreat or course. It is possible to apply what we study straightaway when we live with others who are practicing. Thay was with us in June for German and Dutch retreats. Every day we did walking meditation in the park that lies directly in front of the Ashoka Institute. Our campus became very alive with six to seven hundred people. Almost the whole of the Plum Village monastic community, 120 monks and nuns, came by bus and van from France. The monks and nuns did all the cooking in a temporary kitchen set up in the garden of the Great Compassion Monastery (formerly Zivildienstschule, or civil service school).

mb55-SanghaNews4During these two retreats many of our guests camped in the orchard, and some stayed in pensions and hotels. The fact is that we have received permission to live in only one fifth of our large building and in the monastery. We have held courses and conducted all other activities in the monastery over the past year, since most of the Ashoka Institute is still a building site. This year, Great Compassion Monastery is being looked after by a group of six nuns, while the monks and the remaining nine nuns live in one fifth of the Ashoka Institute building. The monastery has enough space for eighty people to stay, and the habitable part of the Ashoka Institute enough space for about one hundred. Now we really want to make the rest of the building habitable so we can host as many people as want to come.

The courses offered this year have had a wide range of topics, such as bereavement, terminal illness, fear, love, and parent-child relationships. While most courses are led by resident monks and nuns, some are taught by visiting lay Dharma teachers, such as a course for business people and a course for mothers on child-raising. If you are a lay Dharma teacher and would like to lead a course here, please let us know.

In spite of ups and downs with construction regulations and financial difficulties, we enjoy the practice with our friends who stay with us. Most of our visitors are German, but many come from other European countries, especially Holland. We also have a few guests from the U.S. and Southeast Asia.

We are confident that the Ashoka Institute will grow and survive. The initial stages may be difficult, but we do not need to worry. After all, the name of the Institute, Ashoka, means “no worries.” If you live in the U.S. and would like to help financially, please send donations to EIAB Fundraising Committee, c/o Deer Park Monastery, 2499 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026. Checks should be made payable to “Unified Buddhist Church” with a memo: “Funding for EIAB.” If ever you are in Europe, please do not forget to visit us for a week-long course, a weekend course, or a longer stay. Our website is www.eiab.eu and next year’s prospectus will be available online in November.

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mb55-SanghaNews5Historic Visit to Southeast Asia

Thich Nhat Hanh and the brothers and sisters of Plum Village will make a historic visit to Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Hong Kong, from September 8 to November 14, 2010. Due to recent events at Bat Nha Monastery, our brothers and sisters in Vietnam who were ordained with Thay are now dispersed. The majority of the young monastics found refuge in a small, simple center in Thailand. During this trip to Southeast Asia, Thay will inaugurate this center in order to support the young monastics who went through traumatic experiences in Vietnam. Thay and the Plum Village monastics will also lead retreats, days of mindfulness, and public talks for the local people. In Indonesia, Thay will offer two retreats as well as public talks and days of mindfulness in Jakarta, Bogor, and Yogjakarta. The community will visit the historical site of Borobudur, one of the wonders of the world.

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mb55-SanghaNews6True Freedom: Prison Dharma Pen Pal Practice

The Community of Mindful Living receives many letters from incarcerated friends, asking for complementary subscriptions to the Mindfulness Bell, books, and other resources in their life of practice. In response to the needs of incarcerated practitioners, a group of monastic and lay friends has formed a pen pal program, True Freedom: Prison Dharma Sharing. Peter Kuhn, a member of the World Beat Sangha in San Diego and the Still Ripening Sangha at Deer Park Monastery, has volunteered to help coordinate the pen pal program.

Peter writes: “There is a reason Buddhists frequently do prison and hospice work. These are the shunned, neglected, hidden, locked up members of our society. Most of us have fear about encountering them and aversion to dealing with these challenging dynamics. What I love about this work is that by opening my heart to the disenfranchised people in our world, I also open my heart to the disenfranchised parts of myself. As I learn to truly show up and care for these populations I learn to be present and attend to the parts of myself that are scorned, shunned, feared, and silenced.”

True Freedom: Prison Dharma Sharing needs writers for pen pal correspondence with inmates looking to nourish their practice in the Plum Village tradition. The program especially needs male writers, since most letters come from male inmates. Writer privacy is protected as all mail is routed through the CML address.

Contact Peter at peterkuhnxx@gmail.com or (619) 890-1832 for more information on how you can be of service.

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mb55-SanghaNews7Dharma Teachers Caretaking Council

In March 2010, a Sangha of North American Dharma Teachers gathered at Deer Park Monastery to consider ways we might support each other, the North American Order of Interbeing, and the North American Sangha. During the retreat, we manifested a Dharma Teachers Caretaking Council to nourish and support our practice. Before sharing news of this endeavor,

we offered it to our teacher, so that he might provide guidance and insight. Thay has now reviewed and embraced the fruit of our gathering. Therefore, we joyfully share this news with the larger Sangha. Here is the document from the Dharma Teachers Sangha, manifesting the caretaking council and calling certain Dharma teachers to form the first council. The DT Caretaking Council can be reached by email at dtc@tiephien.org.

Deer Park Monastery — 20 March 2010

We recognize and embrace one another as a North American fourfold Order of Interbeing Dharma Teachers Sangha. Participation in the Dharma Teachers Sangha is voluntary and open to all North American Dharma Teachers who have received Lamp Transmission in the lineage of the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh and who actively practice in the Plum Village tradition.

As a Dharma Teachers Sangha, we manifest a Caretaking Council representing the fourfold Sangha and grounded in the practice of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. We encourage the Council to receive input from the Dharma Teachers Sangha. With gratitude, the Sangha calls the following Dharma Teachers to serve as the initial Council:

Sister Huong Nghiem
Brother Phap Tri
Brother Phap Hai
Brother Phap Dung
Sister Dang Nghiem
Anh-Huong Nguyen
Eileen Kiera
Jack Lawlor
Joanne Friday
Lyn Fine
Mitchell Ratner
Peggy Rowe Ward

We entrust and empower the Council to develop ways for its continuation and inclusive representation. The Council may create committees from the wider Dharma Teachers Sangha. We commit to support the Council wholeheartedly and energetically.

We expect the Council to communicate regularly with the Dharma Teachers Sangha and our Root Teacher. We trust this Caretaking Council to function harmoniously and manifest the spirit and practice of the Order of Interbeing.

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